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Moon Buggy Palooza

What happens when NASA's Langley Research Center and Marshall Space Flight Center come together with 34 teams, two strange vehicles and an enthusiastic speaker? A day of fun-filled moon buggy racing!

Marshall's Dr. Frank Six, creator of the moon buggy competition, and Durlean Bradford, the contest manager, brought two moon buggies to NASA Langley for a day of fun and competition June 27.

Two Langley students take on the Mario & Luigi personas for Moon Buggy Palooza

Image to right: Langley summer interns William Cleveland (left, as Mario) and Zarrin Chua (right, as Luigi) adopted the personas of Mario and Luigi -- of "Mario Bros." video game fame -- for the Moon Buggy Palooza. And yes, true to their namesakes, the banana peel was thrown. Credit: NASA/Sean Smith

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Racers put on their game faces Wednesday morning for Langley’s first ever "Moon Buggy Palooza." The field buzzed with excitement as racers discussed strategies and game plans.

"On your mark…get set…GO!"

Speeding around the three-tenths of a mile grass course, racers used leg power to pedal the buggies up to impressive speeds of eight miles per hour.

Great Moonbuggy Race founder Dr. Frank Six (right)

Image to left: Great Moonbuggy Race founder Dr. Frank Six (right) with Langley's Steve Reznick (left). Credit: NASA/Sean Smith

Langley's Moon Buggy Palooza was inspired by the annual Great Moonbuggy Race in Huntsville, Ala., where the original Lunar Rover Vehicle was built.

Designed and constructed by high school and college students for the Great Moonbuggy Race, the two-seater red and blue buggies are patterned after the original Lunar Rover Vehicle. Unlike the lunar rover however, the buggies are human powered, and according to Six, the real lunar rovers are "a little more robust with bigger wheels."

Marshall's moon buggy race was first held in 1994 to commemorate the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Apollo 11 lunar landing, and they have been hosting races ever since.

"The ultimate objective is fun," said Langley Special Projects Manager Elizabeth Ward, who worked with Six and Bradford to coordinate the event.

The Apollo 15 lunar rover on the surface of the Moon

Image to right: Let's face it. There are moon buggies; and there are Moon Buggies. This is the real deal -- the lunar rover from the Apollo 15 mission on the lunar surface. Credit: NASA

While Ward, Six and Bradford hope that the racers have fun, they really want to reach out to and inspire the next generation of explorers. Following the races, Six spoke on the history of the moon buggy competitions and helped hand out awards for Langley's race.

"Dr. Six has a heart for education and outreach," Ward said.

The Langley Moon Buggy Palooza was certainly a success. A huge crowd of racers and spectators came out to the event. Participants ranged from long-term Langley employees to first-month summer interns. Some came to have fun; others came with the serious intent to win.

Summer intern Michelle Binger and Langley civil servant Hope Venus of Team Honeymooners are two that participated for pure enjoyment.

"We're just out here to have fun," Binger said.

Rachel Samples (front) and Emily Sturgill (rear) formed Point of Contact, the Public Affairs Office's entry

"My son, my sister, my nephew, my fiance and his son came to cheer me on," said Venus.

Image to left: Rachel Samples (seated, front) and Emily Sturgill (seated in back) formed Point of Contact, the Public Affairs Office's entry into Moon Buggy Palooza. Credit: NASA/Sean Smith

Then there are the others -- the serious competitors. NASA Edge team member and summer intern Brandon Endo felt the pressure from teammate Chris Giersch and "coach" Blair Allen.

"He expects nothing but the best," Endo said about his teammate.

NASA Edge trained intensely for the big race, "Rocky IV style," according to Allen.

"We've been talking a lot of smack," Endo said.

Of course, it was all in good fun and their training and trash-talk paid off in the end. While brothers Sam and John Miller won the overall best time of the two vehicles, NASA Edge received a first place trophy for the fastest red buggy time. The team accepted their win NASA Edge style - humorously.

"The good thing about moon buggy racing is that there are no losers...except for the rest of the teams that didn't win," joked Endo.

Emily Sturgill
NASA Langley Research Center